Friday 30 August 2019

Zawazawa: recent works by Dai Fujikura

Zawazawa - Dai Fujikura - Minabel Records
Dai Fujikura Zawazawa, Sawasawa, Tuba concerto; MINABEL RECORDS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 August 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Recent works by Dai Fujikura from onomatopoeic choruses to a tuba concerto and virtuosic solo works for clarinet and for double bass

This disc from Minabel Records and New Focus Recordings features recent pieces by Dai Fujikura, ranging from works for solo soprano and for choir, to solo movements for clarinet, for double bass and for french horn, plus Fujikura's Tuba Concerto, performed by Sarah Kobayashi (soprano), the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, conductor Kazuki Yamada, Noriko Tsukagoshi (marimba), Oystein Baadsvik (tuba), Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Shizuo Kuwahara (conductor), Makoto Yoshida (clarinet), Yoji Sato (double bass), Nobuaki Fukukawa (french Horn), and Quartet Amabile.

The majority of the music on the disc was written between 2016 and 2018, thus providing a picture of Fujikura's current thoughts and concerns. The disc opens with ki i te from 2017 for solo soprano, sung by Sarah Kobayashi who also provided the text, and commissioned the piece. In his programme note Fujikura talks about having the idea of writing something grotesque, in contrast to Kobayashi's stage persona. Though the work is hardly grotesque, but it is amazingly virtuosic and Fujikura repeats the short text so it becomes almost like scat, with short repeated motifs providing structure.

Zawazawa from 2016 is a choral piece performed live by the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, conductor Kazuki Yamadi, with a text by Harry Ross. It was the first piece that Fujikura wrote in his role as the chorus' resident artist, and he uses Japanese onomatopoeia for the text (evidently onomatopoeia is a serious business in Japan). Despite this, the text is actually written by Harry Ross who has written texts for Fujikura for 20 years. I have to confess that whilst listening I was entirely unaware of the words, what came over was the remarkable variety of choral textures that Fujikura achieved, starting with a hypnotic wordless throbbing at the opening. At times virtuosic, at times lyrical, it is a fascinating piece and quite a choral tour de force.

Sawasawa was commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival as a follow up to Zawazawa, this time with marimba (played here by Noriko Tukagoshi) joining the choir. The choral writing mixes pitched and unpitched, often with angular lines and intense clusters of notes. The choir and the vibraphone have some quite dramatic interactions, and it is quite a significant tuned percussion part.

Fujikura's Tuba Concerto was written in 2016/17 for the tuba player Oyvind Baadsvik, who recorded it live with Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and conductor Shizuo Kuwahara. Fujikura in his notes talks about writing for the tuba in a way which makes it sexy and sensual. Initially it is quite surprising, quiet and lyrical, melancholy and intimate, with the other wind present only as fragments of motifs. As the work becomes more dramatic the soloist is in vivid dialogue with the wind orchestra. Whilst the piece seems quite free (it is in a single movement), a sense of sequence is created by smaller structured moments between the free tuba passages. And yes, at times the tuba is sexy.

GO is a movement for solo clarinet, written in 2016, which comes from Fujikura's clarinet quintet. It uses flurries of fast arpeggios which alternate with more lyrical moments, intriguing and rather restless. Another work for solo instrument, double bass this time, played by Yoji Sato. Dating from 2018 it was written for bass player Yuji Sato for whom Fujikura wrote his double bass concerto, and uses material from that concerto. It is a vigorous, jazz-ish piece with much slapped bass and often sounds like there is more than one player. Quite a tour de force!

Yurayura from 2017 is the cadenza from Fujikura's Horn Concerto No. 2 here arranged for horn (Nobuaki Fukukawa) and quartet (Quartet Amabile). It is a strange, unearthly piece with a high horn part (on first listen blind I took it for a soprano saxophone!) and eerie string harmonics.

ES is another solo double bass piece, written in 2008 for Enno Senft for the London Sinfonietta's 50th anniversary and here recorded by Yoji Sato. Again, it is a digest of amazing advanced techniques, and that Fujikura uses interesting tunings of the double bass's strings only adds to the fun.

Harahara was written in 2018 for French horn player Nobuaki Fukukawa (who records it here). Evidently there was much discussion between composer and player as to quite what was possible and what not, the result is vividly textures and amazingly virtuosic with Fukukawa creating a striking feeling that there are multiple instruments participating in a some sort of call and response.

The final work on the disc is another choral piece, an Edward Thomas setting from 1994, The New House, which was written when the teenage Fujikura (then aged 17) was still at secondary school in England!

The longest pieces on the disc are Zawazawa (16:13), Sawasawa (14:33) and Tuba concerto (17:00), and surrounding them are the sequence of shorter, mainly solo movements. This means that though individual works are fascinating, striking and sometimes amazingly virtuosic, there is not quite a sense of coherence in the programme. It seems a shame that we could not, for instance, hear the whole of the clarinet quintet and that we are tantalised by just the cadenza from the horn concerto. That said, each individual item is superbly performed and I only have the greatest admiration for the choir and for the individual soloists.

Dai Fujikura (born 1977) - ki ti ke [1.47]
Dai Fujikura - Kawakawa [16:13]
Dai Fujikura - Sawasasa [14:33]
Dai Fujikura - Tuba Concerto [17:00]
Dai Fujikura - GO [2:40]
Dai Fujikura - BIS [3:30]
Dai Fujikura - Yurayura [4:14]
Dai Fujikura - ES [3:29]
Dai Fujikura - Harahara [3.23]
Dai Fujikura - The New House [2:01]
Sarah Kobayashi (soprano)
The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo / conductor Kazuki Yamada
Noriko Tsukagoshi (marimba)
Oystein Baadsvik (tuba),
Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra / Shizuo Kuwahara (conductor)
Makoto Yoshida (clarinet)
Yoji Sato (double bass)
Nobuaki Fukukawa (French Horn)
Quartet Amabile
Recorded 2016-2018
Available from Amazon.

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